Cold in July, a Southern Noir with gothic elements, focuses on the plight of everyman Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) who is by chance dragged into the criminal underworld.
Cold in July, a Southern Noir with gothic elements, focuses on the plight of everyman Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) who is by chance dragged into the criminal underworld. Director Jim Mickle turns a pulpy crime story into an unusually satisfying film which explores the themes of masculinity, fatherhood, and honour.
One night in a sleepy town…
One night in a sleepy Texas town, Dane wakes to find a burglar in his home and, almost accidentally, shoots him dead. Word spreads fast and while he is congratulated by the townsfolk for his seemingly courageous act, Dane is plagued by guilt.
The burglar’s recently paroled father (Sam Shepard) soon arrives in town and makes threatening Dane’s son, and the police are called to protect the family from the stalker. Without giving too much away, the plot thickens. Corrupt cops, the Dixie Mafia and a flamboyant private investigator by the name of Jim Bob (Don Johnson) soon become involved. The arrival of the ostentatious investigator signals a change in tone, from a tense thriller to a revenge film.
While the shift in mood could be considered jarring, it brings a level of unpredictability to what could have otherwise been a regular genre film. With each and new piece of information uncovered, we’re left as clueless as Dane as to where this ordeal will head next.
The three lead’s performances are brilliant, with each bringing vital elements to the mix. Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of the out-of-his-depth Dane is a far cry from his character in Dexter, as he becomes increasingly entangled in events beyond his control.
Don Johnson is hugely enjoyable, his swagger and charisma supplying the only moments of levity in the film. His bright red Cadillac and dry sense of humour make him the highlight of the piece. Sam Shepard’s understated performance is particularly noteworthy, with his body language and facial expression saying far more than his dialogue.
As stoic as any cowboy from the Old West, he’s a man from a bygone era who is deeply conflicted but struggles to find the words to express it.
A vintage feeling
Though only set in 1989, the film almost feels like a period piece. The pulsing synth soundtrack adds a feeling of retro cool, reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The camera work switches between a hand-held style and a carefully composed noir aesthetic.
The use of shadow as much as light adds to the overall murkiness, with many scenes only illuminated by car headlights or street lamps. Bright splashes of red light punctuate the heavy use of black and white, and bring a spooky Gothic atmosphere to an already unsettling film.
While there are some pacing issues that make the film feel unbalanced at points, it doesn’t affect it too majorly. The characterisation is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect, as the three very different characters try to maintain their humanity in the face of horrific events. A tense and atmospheric film, Cold in July is a surprising crime drama that’s definitely worth a look.
Kettle Rating – 3.5 / 5
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